Ek Se Badhkar Ek (1976)

Over the years, without realizing it, I have seen a great many films made by director-producer Brij. Mostly this is due to the fact that he made Excellent Use of Helen in most of them, and as many of you know Helen was one of my first obsessions-within-the-obsession for Hindi cinema. I have even written about six Brij movies on this blog, although my favorite ones (Yakeen and Night In London) haven’t made it yet, and except for Chori Mera Kaam I find that my reviews here have ranged from tepid approval to rather scathing disapproval.

I think at this point I am qualified to say this about Brij: he made films which have super-sweet potential and cracktastic detail (and Helen!) but often become just plain bewildering by the end, when he drives the plot off a cliff to its explosive death, or—to use a phrase coined by Todd and Beth—Death By WTF. It can be really disappointing. So I am very happy to report that he actually held this one together pretty well, and it is highly entertaining—you just have to pay close attention!

Two orphaned young brothers, Shankar and Shyam (Master Rajesh Valecha and Master Ripple), are separated when the older Shyam is arrested for illegal deeds which he is carrying out because little Shankar is being held hostage by bad guy Hiralal. Shankar frees himself and runs after the police jeep as his brother is driven away.

He starts down this path to a bad end immediately, snatching the bag of money from Hiralal and running, turning into a grown-up and nattily dressed Raaj Kumar as he goes.

Shankar is now best friends with ACP Rajesh Verma (Navin Nischol) and has been sort of adopted by Verma’s mother (Purnima). Their friendship does not preclude Rajesh from planning to arrest Shankar when he has the opportunity, in order to set him on the straight and narrow. Shankar is living up to his childhood vow, and has become a big thorn in the side of crime boss JK (an orange-blond bewigged and frightening-plaid-suited Anwar Hussain) and his henchmen, one of whom is named John (Shetty—again with hair!).

He steals shipments which JK has paid for and sells them back to him again. This makes JK apoplectic—I am sure you can imagine the colorful visuals! It is also bankrupting him, making a group of sheikhs and one token gora to whom he owes money very mad.

ACP Verma has been put in charge of security for a ginormous sparkly diamond that has recently been discovered on an archaeological dig.

Naturally, JK’s mouth starts watering at the sight of it. He could really use the crores of rupees that the diamond would fetch, although of course you have to spend money to make money. He points this out to his group of “investors.”

He orders John to summon “Number Two” for the job.

Besides personally guarding the huge heera, Rajesh is now asked to take charge of stopping a big smuggling ring (JK’s, naturally) which is draining our India of its valuable historical treasures and replacing them with cocaine and large amounts of smuggled gold (so we are informed by Iftekhar and a band of Interpol agents. FAB!).

Rajesh has a fiancee, the delectably fashionable Rekha (Sharmila Tagore). She is also a bit of a prankster: we meet her when she enters Rajesh’s office and holds him up at gunpoint, then is knocked out by his hapless constable Lurkuram (Deven Verma). Lurkuram is hankering for a promotion and is mortified to discover that he has bashed his superior’s lady love on the noggin.

Meanwhile (there is a lot of dizzying bouncing around in this story), Shankar has won a substantial amount of money gambling from a man named Tony (Manmohan) at a club owned by sexy Rita (Helen!)—and Tony can’t pay.

He makes a phone call to a a very young-looking woman, who turns out to be Rekha’s mother (um, okay!) as JK and John listen in through some switchboard shenanigans which I don’t understand.

Tony has been blackmailing Rekha’s Maa for years, having trapped her into thinking that she murdered a man (David—who is very much alive) who had broken into her house. She agrees to meet Tony, but drives off a cliff to her death after being misdirected by a detour sign put out by JK and John.

Rekha is surprised when someone claiming to be her father Raja (Ashok Kumar, wearing the worst wig in a film chock full of bad ones) shows up to perform the last rites. Her father had been missing for many years, since Rekha was a little girl. He is greeted ecstatically by old family retainer Ramu and explains where he’s been all this time.

Rekha is initially loath to have anything to do with him, but after a tearful apologetic speech and some emotional blackmail she crumbles.

Her policeman fiance is a little more skeptical, worried that the old man is a fraud. His suspicions are heightened when three creditors show up demanding payment of money that Raja owes them. Raja himself is nowhere to be seen, and Ramu informs Rajesh that he has gone to *gasp* a kotha. The old rascal is busy romancing lovely Padma Khanna with a qawwali.

I sigh happily. Constable Lurkuram is in the audience, and when he discovers that Raja is Rekha’s father a penny drops: he recognizes the old guy as a fraud with a long long police record.

Rajesh tracks Raja down in his new room in Rekha’s house. Raja’s bedroom is beyond spectacular: I *want* the pompom lampshade, the leopard print throw, the mirrors on the wall, the chandelier, the television…and maybe even Rekha’s bell-bottomed pantsuit!

Raja confesses all, and then drops a further bombshell. Before realizing that Rajesh was his daughter’s fiance, he says, he committed the biggest crime of his life: he stole the fabulous diamond while it was in Rajesh’s custody. The one now on display in the museum, he confesses, is a fake that he left in the real one’s place—and experts are due to visit the museum in a few days to assess the diamond’s value.

When Rajesh agrees to switch the real diamond back for the fake one to save Rekha’s daddy’s hide, I roll my eyes, although I feel better about his chances when I realize that the museum guards are all comedians (Birbal, Jankidas, Brahmachari, Agha, Anoop Kumar, Bhagwan).

Many “comic” scenes unfortunately ensue, and a ridiculous Masala Death Trap almost barbecues our hero and heroine, but the diamond is eventually replaced and they escape with Raja’s help. He takes the fake diamond from Rajesh and throws it into the ocean.

But Rajesh and Rekha’s wedding a few days later is interrupted when Rajesh is arrested by the Commissioner himself: the diamond now in the museum is a fake, and Rajesh was caught in action on a museum camera. Old man Raja is nowhere to be seen, but Rajesh manages to escape from police custody on his baraat horse!

Elsewhere, Raja emerges from the sea with the real diamond in his possession, and finds Shankar waiting for him on his boat.

Raja is JK’s “Number Two”—and what JK wants, Shankar wants too. But Raja manages to elude him, jumping back into the sea with the diamond. Shankar is devastated when he learns that his friend Rajesh is on the run from the police, and he vows to keep looking for Raja and the diamond. Then the police find a mutilated (hit by a train) body wearing Raja’s clothes and carrying his possessions (except the diamond). JK is livid when he discovers that his “Number Two” is dead, with no sign of the diamond, and he decides that ACP Verma must indeed have stolen it.

Is Raja really dead? If not, where is he? Is he Rekha’s long-lost father, or not? Can Rajesh, Rekha or Shankar find him and prove Rajesh’s innocence? Or will they be trapped in JK’s web first? What has happened to Shankar’s brother Shyam—will they ever be reunited? If you are prepared for a lot more dizzying plot twists, seventies fashion (maxi dresses! loud scarves!) (and Raaj Kumar’s own brand of knotted-at-the-waist “colourful blouses”), and are willing to suspend all your believability and continuity requirements, you will enjoy Ek Se Badhkar Ek. Kalyanji Anandji’s songs are a perfectly funky accompaniment, especially Helen’s number (the title song) and a fun tribal dance for Sharmila. Plus, one of my favorite elements in any story:

Hooray!

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42 Comments to “Ek Se Badhkar Ek (1976)”

  1. why do I get the feeling that this is one of the movies where your review is much more interesting than the original movie? Haven’t seen the movie though – just the feeling. Thanks for yet another good review!

    • It’s a pretty fun film, actually. I watched this with my friend Shalini online, and we were busy chatting and I did lose the thread, but when I went back to take screencaps I got sucked back into it and realized that it really does mostly hang together. One of Brij’s better efforts :D

  2. Me was wondering too, what happened to Shyam. Love your tags, oops I’ve misplaced my wife, yeah, that happens often, in Hindi films. :)

    • Many relatives and friends seem to get misplaced :) This actually kept me guessing as to who Shyam might be, and other plot twists surprised me completely as well (sometimes admittedly because they came out of nowhere and made no sense). It’s fun though!

  3. I don’t get the reason for all these fake wigs. Why?! Does being even vaguely criminal mean that you have to be always wearing an awful wig?

    My dad used to be a cop. I must ask him how many criminals he unwigged in real life.

  4. My head is spinning and I have lost track of the plot by the time I arrived towards the end. Are Bollywood movie makers really capable of such convoluted plots ? Phew !

  5. My first reaction is same as squarecutatul’s My head is spinning and I have lost track of the plot by the time I arrived towards the end.
    Can’t say about the movie but your review is very interesting!
    @ dustedoff : I guess we could do a post on fake wigs and criminals ( a graph plotting fake wigs along x-axis and how crimial one is along y-axis ;-) )

    • I am no good at graphs and things like that, but go ahead! I would love to see such a thing!

    • Two of my most indelible memories of wigs in Hindi cinema:

      Biswajit’s bronze wig in Kahin Din Kahin Raat. He’s pretending to be a Parisian called Robby. Just thinking about it gives me the shivers.

      Pran’s (also bronze, if I remember correctly) wig in An Evening in Paris.

      Terrible, terrible. Somehow, the women’s wigs – even when platinum blonde (Helen in countless roles or item numbers?) – don’t rile me.

      • Now you can add Anwar Hussain’s awful bronze wig to the collection of bad memories :)

        The female platinum blonde who is indelibly etched in my mind is Shashikala of course, in Phool Aur Patthar!

  6. I remember seeing this as a kid and thoroughly enjoying it, though my memories of the plot are necessarily vague. So I dont know who Shyam will be – but I can only hope and pray that it wont be Naveen Nischol! I would have to work really, REALLY hard on my suspension-of-disbelief to swallow him being Raj Kumar’s elder bro.

    For all his drawbacks as a film maker, one must commend Brij on letting his hero rise through the ranks. ACP Verma must be the only police hero in 70s masala who progressed beyond the rank of “Inspector”!

  7. Gosh I got crosseyed reading even this much of the plot. This is a movie one must SEE not read .. :D

    Of course the title IS Ek se Badhkar Ek, one trying to outwit another !

  8. Yup another Brij gem… The great memory I have about this… Mom and dad and me are taking a cab to see this movie… I think it was playing in Novelty or Apsara (in Bombay)… All along the way the cab driver (who had seen it) gave us a lot about the plot… Brij’s son Kamal Saldhana did some acting early nineties… do look up how Brij died.. really sad.

    • Yes, I found out about Brij’s awful end in my Professor Pyarelal post comments, made me sad esp. since his wife Sayeeda was one of my favorite 60s actresses. Life can take twists as strange as the ones in his films, I guess!

  9. I loved this film. Luckily i have the DVD of this film. Memsaab actually i live in Bangladesh where it really create problems getting old Hindi films in local DVD shops. They never had the collection of old Hindi movies. I just have to look for it in shops after shops and that’s why i cant watch the movies. But i can watch the songs on youtube and dailymotion.That’s why i keep on asking you the song’s name. So i just have to collect the songs from these sites. Even i don’t have any ideas about those sites from where i can get DVD or can watch movies. Memsaab if u kindly say that from which site i can get DVD in Bangladesh or can watch old Hindi films, so it would really help me.

    This movie is really fantastic. The very beautiful Helen song Ek Se Badkar ek is just superb. Padma Khanna’s qawwali was superb too. The dancers in Indian Cinema were just superb. I just love all of them.esp. Helen, Laxmi Chhaya, Bela Bose and Madhumati. But in none of the films they appeared together. Sharmila’s tribal number was superb too. Kalyanji Anandji scored some really beautiful songs in the film. The story was fabulous too. In total its an fantastic film.

    • Subah, try induna.com. They are in Calcutta so you shouldn’t have to pay too much for shipping, and they have a huge selection of old dvds and vcds which they sell at Indian prices. Great customer service too. Tell them I sent you :-)

  10. That bell-bottom pantsuit is to die for!

    Did I miss something, or is it in fact not explained why a bad guy is holding an orphan hostage?

    • You would love this just for the fashion and decor alone :) The bad guy is holding the orphan hostage so that the orphan’s older brother will do his dirty work for him!

  11. II I just loved your comment about the very young actress playing Sharmila Tagore’s mother, especially since Sharmila wasn’t that young in 1976.

  12. I think that walking into a police station with a gun with the intention of jokingly “holding up” your policeman fiance is exactly what the phrase “Don’t try this at home” was meant for. Where are those wordy Bollywood disclaimers when we need them?

    Sounds like you finally found a Brij film that was satisfying from start to finish. Congratulations! I guess it just goes to show that you shouldn’t burn your Brij-es before they’re crossed.

    • Aiiieeeee!!! Ow. There have been other Brij films (Yakeen, Night In London, Chori Mera Kaam) which I’ve enjoyed as much as this one :) The best part of that scene is actually that it’s a water pistol, which the constable who knocked her out then uses on her to try and bring her around. Hilarious.

  13. So, *that’s* what the movie was the about?!:-D Standing ovation to you for piecing the plot together.

    My favorite wig moment has to be be when Sharmila takes *her* wig off and hands it to her furture mother-in-law.:-D I like to think that was director Brij’s way of winking at the audience for all wig silliness in the movie.

    • It’s not a good watchalong film—requires more concentration than you can really give and be chatting it up with a pal :D

      The Sharmila wig scene was hilarious…for those who have not seen the film, Rajesh’s mother admires Sharmila’s hairstyle, and Sharmila reaches up and pulls the wig off and gives it to her. There was quite a bit of fun in it actually! (let me know if you give it another try and it seems less nonsensical to you…it could be that I am just crazy).

  14. Memsaab can you please tell that who is the singer of the song Ek Se Badkar Ek. I searched it on eartmusic i didn’t get it. I am bit confuse i guess is the singer is either Sharda or Asha Bhosle. But not sure about anything but i really want to know that who is the singer. I hope you will inform me.

    • I have no idea! I cannot tell singers apart from each other, especially female. I’m a little better with the men, but even then it is sketchy for me :)

      Updated to add: earthmusic.net credits Runa Laila as the singer…

  15. Wow..this brings back so many memories.

    Greta, thank you SO much for reviewing this.
    I remember seeing this movie in the 70s.
    It was quintessential 70s stuff – from plot to decor to songs to dresses.

    And I remember thoroughly enjoying it.

    I don’t remember the story too much now (and inspite of your valiant attempt, Brij wins hands-down in the “unravellable sphagetti” game. I guess you have to SEE his movies to have a chance of understanding them).

    I do remember though there were plenty of twists and turns towards the end – just like you would expect from a movie with this title.

    I am pretty sure there was an elaborate gambling scene – or maybe I am confusing it with Nehle Pe Dehla (also released around the same time and also quite a lot of fun).

    I remember the title song very well – very catchy number (typically Kalyanji-Anandji of the time).

    Am going to check songs out on youtube – to relive some of those 70s moments. :-)

    Merci beaucoup, mademoiselle.

    • You have to see them several times I think and even then some of them are unravellable (is that a word? I don’t think so). This was oodles of fun though, and did mostly make sense. There are several gambling scenes in it too, Helen owns a gambling club that Raaj Kumar frequents :)

      • I am pretty sure too that there is no word “Unravellable” in the dictionary.
        But it just sounded so right !!! :-)
        Of late, I have started creating my own vocabulary – got a bit bored of using the same words all the time. :-)

        For example, I have created a word “disgusculous” – a combination of “disgusting” and “ridiculous”.
        OK it was in the context of cricket but I think it could have considerable application in 1980s movies that involve Shakti Kapoor. :-)
        And it could be quite a decent antonym for “cracktastic”. :-)

  16. the singer of title song is runa laila,plus how come all u brij fans fail to mention his biggest and best movie victoria no 203,it was a classic,chori was good also…

  17. can anybody kindly give the softcopy of this movie: Ek se badhkar ek (1976) of Raaj Kumar, Asdhok Kumar etc.? johndias2007@yahoo.com

  18. ek se badhkar ek WIG! Even Shetty could not resist himself and wore
    a wig.

  19. ek se ek badkar was a great superhit in the year 1976.
    it made it to the top 10 grossing movies of the year.
    a funny film with great songs by kalyanji anandji.

    a fast paced entertaining film.
    i loved this film very much

  20. OMG ur reviews r sooo much fun (chuckles) i soo HAVE to watch this one !! and im totally dazzled by that wig i can hardly see anything beyond it >.<

  21. Raj Kumar is one such actor who kept on ranting good dialogues without anyn expression on his face. I think radio suited him.

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